It was after you slurred those filthy songs with a sweet voice, eyes rolling up to the colored gels covering the lights, thinking, “FUCK! They can make me beautiful,” that I decided I couldn’t look at you anymore,

The first time I met Tricky, she told me to pour her a double, baby, and so I did. On a good day she drank Stoli and soda, heavy on the Stoli, light on the soda, in a glass. On a not so good day she did away with the glass and drank straight out of the bottle. I had never seen thirst like hers.

She worked in the club’s office upstairs, answering phones all day in a voice clouded by cigarette smoke and dripping with honey, but she wished she could get her bartending gig back. There was a day last summer when I had to go to work, despite feeling like an emotional wreck. As I opened the door to the office and walked inside, Tricky took one look at me and asked me what was wrong. I broke down in tears and words and expressed that I had just left my boyfriend. I typically detest showing any vulnerability, especially at work, but at this point in my life my closest friends were either living elsewhere or just not around that weekend. I have a lot of “friends,” but only a few people that I really confide in. “Oh, boo, it gets easier, but for some of us, the ache never goes away,” she said, tears in her eyes. Her boyfriend had left her several months before, and it sure didn’t seem like it was any easier for her. She hugged me. I hadn’t hugged anyone in months. It felt good.

a frail six-foot tall child who chooses to sleep on tattered, burnt velvet couches in the humid basement, not even caring that rats bite your ripped knees and floured skin falls from your tiny finch-like bones.

Tricky was larger than life, an exaggerated woman, a singer prone to maudlin expression and verse, a bombastic designer with decorations not for the faint of heart. She painted murals in the club with vague images of herself all gussied up like a Storyville whore. She told me that she was going to take her panache for flower arrangements and start her own business. She told me that she could get us front row tickets to Madonna. She told me that a world famous photographer was going to do a photo shoot of her at the club, which is why she showed up to work one day in perfect make up and hair like Veronica Lake. But the world famous photographer never showed.

Or you sit, a defeated ghost of your former self, haunting the corner of my bar.

And then she lost her job at the club. I had a regular who was the head chef and manager of a party boat in Manhattan. He sought my help in hiring suggestions. I recommended Tricky. Chef Ted called me after her interview and thanked me for sending her in and that she was hired. “I told him that he had to wear a shirt and tie, you know, be a boy if he wants to work on this boat, because customers aren’t going to appreciate his other look. I don’t mind of course. But he can’t scare people here.” He nervously laughed when I didn’t.

You make a brutal gesture to me, pour you another, your mother is dying, you miss your boyfriend, you lost your job, you make no money at your new job, you are being evicted, you are disappearing. I do pour you another, but at the same time, I think about how I want to rip your hair out, strand by strand, with my teeth.

I felt guilty for enabling her habit, but sometimes I felt like it would just go away on its own. I know that sounds insane. I didn’t want to face reality, either, I suppose. Whenever I saw her, she knew what to expect, an attentive bartender, a drinking buddy, a shoulder to cry on…how could I deny her that? I suck at tough love and never had to do an intervention either, despite having a fair number of addicts amongst my friends. Sometimes I feel guilty for being able to handle my alcohol, being able to know when I need to stop drinking. I am a heavy drinker, but I am undeniably a responsible one. I don’t drink on the job. I don’t ever drink and drive. I don’t drink during the day, save for the occasional bloody Mary at brunch. I love booze, but I also know there is a right time and place for it.

When you aren’t looking, I take the stolen bottles, greasy from your grab, out of that bag you told me to hold for you. I noticed the plastic seals now slack and ripped back from fat glass necks because you were like an eager child unwrapping presents on Christmas.

I adore this photo because it reminds me of Tricky at her finest. Despite the spur of the moment pose, despite the shitty camera phone and the not famous photographer, she treated it like it was crucial. I will always look at it and remember her with love. That night there was an upcoming big event at the club and she had been decorating the basement bar area to look like the secret cave of a teenaged princess. She had hung pink and red chandeliers, arranged giant bouquets of stargazer lilies in glass vases tinted fuschia, making the dank basement where she slept smell divine. She put glitter everywhere that could take it.

I want to spit on you. I want to hug you, your heart is as huge as a magnum. I pour you another. And this, I vow, this will be the last one, ever.

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Joi Brozek is the author of Sleeveless (Phonylid Press), along with numerous chapbooks on independent presses. She is just about finished writing her second novel, I’ll See You Soon at Coney Island. She holds a BA from New York University and an MFA from Brooklyn College. She lived her entire life in New York City until 3 years ago. Fearing that she was too New York-centric, she decided that a change of pace was necessary and moved to Lawrence, Kansas, and soon thereafter Kansas City. She now resides in the "city of her dreams," New Orleans. She splits her loyalties between NOLA and NYC, and is a constant state of missing one or the other. Read her daily ramblings on joibrozek.blogspot.com and joi.yelp.com

3 responses to “A Thousand Words: Girl in a Bottle”

  1. Joi Brozek says:

    Original Comment Thread Below:

    Comment by jmb
    2009-09-09 12:19:52
    Oh my my Do i know you?
    This all sounds so familiar – eccentric too tall gay girls in bars
    you know I love this.

    Comment by Joi Brozek
    2009-09-09 13:04:23
    Aw, thank you!!
    And…you never know where our paths may have crossed 🙂

    Comment by Zara Potts
    2009-09-09 14:21:03
    Joi, This is beautiful.
    I’m loving your pieces.

    Comment by Joi Brozek
    2009-09-10 12:09:59
    Thank you so much, Zara!

    Comment by Simon Smithson
    2009-09-09 15:07:32
    Man, this has been a good week for pieces. Good write, Joi.
    Yeah, I know. What do you do? It’s so easy to hope ‘Yeah, OK, this is bad, but it will sort itself out on its own.’
    Confrontation, man. It’s a bitch.

    Comment by Joi Brozek
    2009-09-10 12:10:29

    Comment by Irene Zion
    2009-09-10 03:29:46
    This is a bewitching story conscientiously written.
    Please keep writing.

    Comment by Joi Brozek
    2009-09-10 12:10:55
    Thank you, Irene!!

    Comment by Megan DiLullo
    2009-09-10 15:47:04
    A great story.
    You have such great style, your writing and your bad ass self.
    Keep ‘em coming.

    Comment by Gina Frangello
    2009-09-12 08:26:42
    Loved this. So evocative and atmospheric I felt like I could taste the Stoli.

    Comment by Mary McMyne
    2009-09-13 11:21:16
    Joi, I just read this. Powerful piece. I loved it.

    Comment by Marni Grossman
    2009-09-14 10:25:15
    I love your writing.
    This made my heart ache.

  2. josie says:

    Joi?! How did I miss this? oh yeah, I was on vacation. Well I’m back and so glad I caught this story. This was dreadful and divine. I love it when writing tears me up and leaves me scattered on the floor. Looking forward to your next post.

  3. Joi Brozek says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for saying this, Josie 🙂

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